My advice to Democrats is to enjoy South Carolina while it lasts. It reminds me of 2000 when John McCain and George W. Bush went after each other in that state’s primary. We in the Gore campaign could barely believe our good fortune. We had survived our New Hampshire near-death experience and got to sit back and watch Republican fratricide. Bush won, but he won ugly, and he lost a little moral altitude by countenancing dirty tricks against McCain. McCain’s anger and a disorganized campaign led him to make a mistake, running an ad, quickly pulled, that compared Bush to Bill Clinton, which seemed out of bounds even by the Wild West standards of South Carolina. Each day, we chortled as McCain and Bush engaged in a political game of the “dozens,” ratcheting up the insults. Surely, this would have lasting damage; they had given us a whole video archive of attacks that we could repurpose for the general election.
Within a couple of weeks, it was all over. The McCain campaign ended, and Bush, with full media compliance, pivoted back to being a compassionate conservative. South Carolina was forgotten by all but McCain and his wife.
The parallel with 2012 is this: When Mitt Romney puts away the nomination, after South Carolina or Florida, whatever damage that remains from his Palmetto hell week will not endure. He will have the winner’s halo, and the media will immediately begin building the drama of a tight race between him and President Obama. Romney will likely have a smart plan to relaunch his campaign, beginning by consolidating his party. Polls will come out showing him with a slight lead. South Carolina will be distant.